|Becoming a Primary School Teacher in Trinidad & Tobago, Part 2: Teaching Practice - Experience of Trainees (CIE, 2000, 54 p.)|
|Chapter 5: Summary And Discussion|
This study has revealed that teaching practice, as it is currently conceived and executed, is problematic. It is problematic from several angles. There is the question of the kind of primary schoolteacher that is necessary for the schools in Trinidad and Tobago today. There is the question of the kind of curriculum that will best prepare these teachers. There is also the question of the nature of the teaching practice experience that will best prepare trainees to function in today's schools.
Problems surfaced particularly with respect to the difficulty that trainees experience in negotiating the theory/practice interface. Perhaps trainees need to be given more opportunities to become aware of their beliefs about teaching and its contexts, and to question these beliefs in the light of their new experiences. There is little reference in the Teachers' College curriculum document (except in the case of Language Arts) to developing capacities in trainees for reflective action. In the absence of any stated philosophical orientation, there is also no reference point for reflection, although the concept of reflection on action (Schon, 1983) is embedded in the teaching practice as part of the post-lesson conferences. A greater emphasis on reflective action, both reflection on action and reflection in action (Schon, 1983) may help to reduce some of the problems being currently experienced with the theory/practice interface. It may also help to reduce the intensity of complaints from several quarters that the trainees tend to be deficient in the area of methodology.
The arrangements for school attachments for teaching practice also need to be looked at more carefully. It is difficult to understand why closer links do not exist between supervising lecturers, cooperating teachers, and principals of cooperating schools. Neither the College officials nor Ministry of Education staff have been able to organise, on a sustained basis, for the proper articulation of the roles and functions of these various stakeholders, and their interaction in meaningful ways. One would also need to examine the structure of the attachment period in the schools. The current arrangement of three block periods does not seem to be the most efficient one, although trainees did report that they had received some benefits from the exposure. If the trainees' presence in a real classroom is seen as essential for the development of good practice, and given that the nature of the primary school classroom in Trinidad and Tobago today is changing rapidly, then a longer school attachment, with properly trained cooperating teachers, would seem to be a more viable option.
Is primary teacher education at the Teachers' Colleges in Trinidad and Tobago making a difference in the teaching abilities of trainees who undertake the two-year programme? The evidence suggests that trainees do make some gains as they move through the programme. The further question that must be asked, though, is: At what costs are these gains made? As presently constituted, there seems to be a heavy cost with respect to trainees' physical, mental, and emotional energy, and there is little evidence that these high costs are counterbalanced by superior outcomes. The question of financial cost has not been considered in this sub-study (see sub-study on Costs for this analysis) but indications are that the efficiency of the system can also be queried on this basis. Perhaps, the time is right for the re-engineering of the Teachers' College curriculum to cater more efficiently for the desired outcomes.
In the light of the findings of this study, the following recommendations are made:
· In order to standardise teaching practice requirements, roles and responsibilities of the partners must be articulated and clearly communicated. The fragile institutional relationships between the Colleges and the receiving schools need to be strengthened. There must be some formalised inter-institutional agreement to guide the nature of the participation. Since the college administrators, the supervising lecturers, and the cooperating schools are all partners in the practice component of teacher training, there must be shared understandings of individual roles and responsibilities. The school attachment in the preparation of teachers is assumed to be a no-cost factor. True partnership, however, is a high-stakes investment where each partner puts into the equation improvement strategies that are meaningful, with each partner sharing the responsibility for making the improvements a reality. There must be the creation of new roles and role relationships that fully acknowledge the roles of the receiving schools and the cooperating teachers. These changes require commitment, time and resources, and new patterns of governance that rest on shared assumptions about teaching.
· Criteria for the selection of cooperating teachers must be indicated. There must be formal recognition and preparation of cooperating teachers. Cooperating teachers should have professional certification and should be selected based on recommendations from principals and school supervisors. They should be given additional training through workshops/short courses on mentoring and clinical supervision, after which they may be referred to as expert or distinguished teachers. These distinguished teachers will then form a pool from which cooperating teachers may be selected as required.
· There should be incentives for cooperating teachers. In order to encourage teachers to continue their professional development, distinguished teachers should be formally recognised (e.g., by upgrading or certification), and those who serve as cooperating teachers should be given a small stipend. In addition, such school-based responsibility should be considered a criterion for promotion.
· The structure of the school attachment must be revisited. Trainee teachers need to spend longer periods in the receiving schools and, so, other options for restructuring the teaching practice should be explored. One option is to have curriculum modules organised in blocks, so that one term is devoted to teaching practice. This would allow all trainees and supervisors to be out in the field at the same time, enhancing the quality of supervision as well as feedback. It is proposed that all the stakeholders come together to work out the best arrangement for the school attachment.
· Assessment practices must be revisited. The system of grading trainees from the initial teaching practice sessions should be discontinued. The initial period should provide trainees with the necessary support to improve their practice, allowing opportunities for self-assessment through personal reflections, as well as feedback from supervisors and cooperating teachers. There should be clear criteria for assessment, and grading practices should be consistent.